First Bite: Hops & Hominy, Southern Hospitality in Union Square
For first time San Francisco restaurant owners, the guys behind Union Square's new Southeastern restaurant Hops and Hominy have the Bay Area shtick down pretty well. Exposed brick walls? Check. Sustainable ingredients? Double check. Local artist's mural on the wall? That makes three.
Chef David Baeli and his Ocala, FL childhood buddies Daniel McKinney and Adam Edwards have gotten some other things right too. It's not a barbeque restaurant, but the guys are falling in step with the Southern food current that's coursing through the city these days.
In the past year, Cedar Hill opened in the Marina, the Castro got the Dancing Pig and Criolla, Hayes Valley adopted Boxing Room, and The Mission now has Southpaw and one more on the way soon: Hi-Lo BBQ from the talented restauranteurs behind Hog & Rocks.
Tapping into yet another craze, there are some very interesting, constantly changing hard-to-find beers on the menu too. (Edwards is about to get quirky, Boston-area Pretty Things Beer on tap, for example). Meanwhile, the kitchen is working towards making everything from the bread to the ice cream in house.
The owners landed on a goldmine with the former Azul space on Tillman Place. The location has that back alley intrigue, but there's lots of foot traffic, and the remodel—lots of wood, an open kitchen, and glowing exposed bulbs—achieves a level of warmth that's impressive considering the restaurant isn't even a month old yet.
A crowded room doesn't hurt. As the quantity of filled up tables on our random Wednesday visit shows, Hops & Hominy scratches the Southern food itch in Union Square, and it does so with some surprisingly moist and flavorful buttermilk-fried chicken at that.
Another standout on my visit earlier this week: tart fried green tomatoes strengthened by a thick parmesan and cayenne crust and a soothing douse of housemade ranch. The mac and cheese and cast-iron-skillet-baked cornbread aren't reinventing the wheel, but I don't think that's what most people want in the case of nostalgic Southern food anyway.
The cheese-dense grits propping up four plump shrimp go down easy, and cured bacon infused Navy beans made a palatable complement to a sharply maple glazed pork chop. For dessert, I think the beignets could use a little more puff, but I'd certainly go back for the apple crumble. When there's piping hot pie and a wallop of vanilla ice cream in the picture, there's not much that could go wrong.